Parents are alerted after child's death Officials say he may have had meningitis, but doctor is doubtful

March 03, 1998|By Dennis O'Brien and Erin Texeira | Dennis O'Brien and Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

Howard County officials alerted parents of children attending an Ellicott City elementary school yesterday that a second-grade student may have died from meningitis Sunday, but at least one physician said he doubts that type of infection killed the child.

Parents of Worthington Elementary School students were alerted yesterday to the death of 8-year-old Steven Chilton in letters sent home by school and Howard County health officials.

A letter from Dr. Willa Brown, director of the county Health Department's Bureau of Personal Health, said Steven died of "probable meningococcus meningitis."

But a physician at Howard County General Hospital, where Steven was initially treated after suffering a high fever Sunday, said last night that he doubted the child died of meningitis.

"It's unknown at this time whether it's meningitis, but it's probably not," said Dr. David Monroe, head of pediatrics at Howard County General.

Steven was treated for about two hours there before he was flown by helicopter to the Johns Hopkins Hospital pediatric intensive care unit in Baltimore, where he died Sunday night.

Monroe said that Steven's treating physician, Dr. Pamela Jacobs, examined samples of the boy's blood under a microscope Sunday and found no evidence of meningitis.

"The odds are it's not going to be a germ that requires any treatment for anyone else," Monroe said.

Scott Chilton also said last night that he has been told by Hopkins physicians that his son did not die of meningitis.

"The doctors said no antibiotic treatment is necessary for anyone," Chilton said.

But health and school officials said yesterday they were taking no chances.

Patti Caplan, a spokeswoman for Howard County schools, said county health officials recommended sending the letters to Worthington parents.

Brown's letter advises students who have had close contact with Steven to seek preventive medication from their physicians.

"If your child is a close contact, watch for early signs of illness, such as nausea, vomiting, headache, stiff neck, skin rash or change in behavior," the letter said.

The letter identified close contact as "kissing, sharing eating utensils or the same beverage container."

Worthington Principal Fran Donaldson also sent a letter to parents identifying Steven, expressing condolences to his family and recommending that parents talk to their children about the death.

Meningitis is an infection that inflames the membranes surrounding the brain. It is found in two main forms: viral and bacterial.

The bacterial type, which county health officials suspect in Steven's case, is frequently life-threatening and is treated with intravenous antibiotics. The viral strain of the illness is rarely life-threatening but sometimes requires a hospital stay to treat symptoms, which include headaches and nausea.

Meningitis was detected in a fourth-grade student at West Friendship Elementary School in western Howard County in October and in a fifth-grade teacher at Swansfield Elementary School in Columbia in June, but both were diagnosed with viral meningitis and recovered.

Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Peter Beilenson, who must be notified of meningitis cases, said last night that he had not received any notice.

Pub Date: 3/03/98

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